FREQUENTLY-ASKED QUESTIONS
re: Polyamory

by The Ravenhearts *

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1-Q:Is it correct that you coined the word “polyamory?” If so, in what year did you come up with the term, and how? (Is there a small tale behind the coining of the word? For example, what, if any, were some of the terms you initially considered, and why did you subsequently abandon them?)

1-A:It was our senior wife, Morning Glory, who officially coined the terms “polyamory” and “polyamorous.” This was in an article she wrote for our Church magazine, Green Egg, which was published in the May, 1990 issue. The article was titled “A Bouquet of Lovers,” and it was written in response to a request from our third partner/wife of the time, Diane. Morning Glory was always referring to “The Rules” of such relationships, and Diane, who was at the time Editor of the magazine, asked her to set them down in writing so everyone would know what they were.

During the process of composing the article, Morning Glory needed a simple term to express the idea of having multiple simultaneous sexual/loving relationships without necessarily marrying everyone. This sounds so obvious, but strangely, there had never been any such word. Since “monogamy” means, literally, “marriage to one,” the obvious corollary would seem to be “polygamy,” meaning “marriage to many.” But people can be very sloppy in their use of the language, and they often use the word “monogamy” even to refer to steady dating, which might be more properly described as “monamory” (“love of one” –Oberon’s term).

Other people had tried to tackle this semantic problem before. In the ‘70s, Geo of Kerista coined the useful term “polyfidelity” (“faithful to many”). Polyfidelity actually meant (most of the time) a sexually fidelitous group marriage of co-equals—all equally bonded to each other member. The specific social contract that defined any particular “polyfi” group marriage could vary on all other variables, but not these points. (In Kerista, this also meant equitable rotational sleeping schedules, and no same-sex lovemaking--all set down in a book of 86 elaborate rules.) These days many people who find loyalty to their group marriage a key shared value still use the term polyfidelity, but with this altered definition.

In the mid-‘80s, Darca Nicholsen coined the term “omnigamy,” which means, literally, “marriage to everything.” (We’ve never been sure just what she meant by that, and we haven’t seen this word in use since MG came up with “polyamory.”)

Loving More magazine (first a newsletter, then the magazine) began in 1984 and used the term polyfidelity for those doing that specifically, and “open relationships” or “intimate networks” for those doing other variations of multiple-adult committed relationships. In The Polyfidelity Primer, published in 1989, these terms were defined (and reprinted in Anapol’s Love Without Limits). Loving More started using polyamory as an umbrella term for the wide range of styles of group relating as it became more well-known, mostly via the online poly community.

Around 1990, Deborah Anapol was using the phrases “non-monogamy” and “intimate networks” to describe the idea of having several simultaneous ongoing lover relationships, without requiring exclusivity or commitment. Deborah was one of the first authors to pick up on “polyamory,” and she reprinted Morning Glory’s 1990 article, “A Bouquet of Lovers,” in the first edition of Deborah’s book, Love Without Limits (1992).

Around the same time, Michael Aluna coined the word “panfidelity,” meaning “faithful to all,” which he proceeded to define most eloquently in a series of articles (which we published in Green Egg in 1993-94), in terms very reminiscent of how we have been discussing polyamory.

What we were all trying to come up with was an inclusive term that encompassed ALL forms of multiple love/sex relationships—and, perhaps most importantly, of being the kind of person capable of romantically loving several people simultaneously. We were NOT trying to define another exclusive lifestyle or specific pattern for such relationships, other than to emphasize openness and honesty in their practice. We needed a word that simply meant “having multiple lovers.”

Morning Glory and Oberon had both studied Latin in high school, and know a smattering of Greek as well. When we need to coin words, we naturally look to Greek and Latin roots. However, the Latin for “loving many” would be “multi-amory,” which sounded awkward; and the Greek would be “polyphilia,” which sounded like a disease.

In discussing this whole semantic dilemma, Morning Glory had the brilliant insight to combine both Greek and Latin roots into “poly-amory.” This sounded just perfect. So she used it in the article. And the rest, as they say, is History...

 2-Q:What, in your view, is the essence of polyamory? How does it differ from swinging?

2-A:Here is Morning Glory’s current definition, which she gave to the Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary when they contacted her in 1999 to enter the term:

“Polyamory: The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.”

This term was meant to be inclusive, and in that context, we have never intended to particularly exclude “swinging” per se, if practitioners thereof wished to adopt the term and include themselves. As far as we have understood, swinging specifically does not involve “cheating,” and it certainly does involve having “multiple lovers”! Moreover, we understand from speaking with a few swinging activists that many swingers are closely bonded with their various lovers, as best friends and regular partners.

The two essential ingredients of the concept of “polyamory” are “more than one;” and “loving.” That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other's lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, “cheating,” serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as “mate-swapping” parties.

Polyamory is about truthful communication with all concerned parties, loving intent, erotic meeting and inclusivity (as opposed to the exclusivity of monogamy and monamory). On the basis of our own personal friendships with a few participants in the very large, diverse groundswell of human energy sometimes called the “Swinger’s Movement,” many—perhaps most—self-identified “swingers” do seem to fulfill our criteria of being polyamorous.

However, Ryam Nearing of Loving More says: “In all my talks with swingers it seems that the traditional (and most widespread) way of swinging is not polyamory as it is primarily sexual and specifically not relationship oriented. Some swingers and some locals allow for/choose more emotional connection, but they are the exception rather than the rule.”

3-Q:How does “morality” fit into the poly scheme of things?

3-A:The term “morality” is generally used to refer to externally-imposed rules intended to govern private behavior. This is a linear concept that relates to absolutes of “right” and “wrong.” We prefer the term “values.” The values of Polyamory are love, communication, truth, inclusively, and a positive embracing of the sexual aspect of human nature.

Most polyamorous folk tend to feel that their consensual relationships and behavior are really no-one else’s business but their own. Many of us identify strongly with the Wiccan “Charge of the Goddess” (written by Doreen Valiente), which says: “All Acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” Thus, we sanction all loving and responsible relationships among informed and mutually consenting adults, whatever their number, gender, or practice.

Regarding “ethics,” which is more about one’s internal personal codes of behavior, there is a very strong foundational current in the basic concept of polyamory, and throughout the poly community, emphasizing honesty, openness, compassion, loyalty, commitment, kindness, decency, and in general, caring and taking care of each other. This is all summed up quite nicely in the phrase, “Be excellent to each other!” (from the movie, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”)

4-Q:What is the greater social context in which the Ravenhearts operate?

4-A:The founding members of the Family have been significant founders, movers and shakers for decades in the emerging Neo-Pagan religious community, which is one of the fastest-growing religions in the Western World. Oberon and Morning Glory especially have helped define the very nature and values of this community. As a polytheistic religious movement, the Neo-Pagan community is dedicated to the celebration of diversity in all its myriad manifestations. Thus all forms of relationships and sexual orientations are honored in the community, though not necessarily personally embraced by all individuals.

Historically and mythologically, polyamory and polygamy have always been considered viable options among Pagan peoples, for those who so choose them, and such relationships are honored and supported today within the worldwide Neo-Pagan community, where approximately 50% of contemporary Pagans polled have stated polyamory to be their ideal relationship choice. And beyond the Pagan community, Liza is an organizational founder and highly-respected networker in the national grassroots, volunteer ecumenical sexuality and spirituality movement. We feel that having a larger social context which accepts and supports one’s personal life- and relationship patterns is essential to living a healthy and integrated life.

5-Q:What is your vision for the role of polyamory in the world?

5-A:We believe that the first syllable of the word polyamory, “poly,” is a post-modern paradigm of great value; and that “Polyamory” is one expression of it. We live in a POLYmorphous POLYverse, in which even many scientists seem to understand that our world emerges out of chaos and the order we perceive feeds and thrives on the chaos that is beyond our understanding. Where one linear idea once lived in human culture, a diversity of notions have grown.

We believe that Polyamory is a very important new relationship option whose time seems to have arrived. Where once we thought every family should consist of a monogamous man and woman with their 2.5 kids, we now know that a family is any small group of bonded people who claim that connection with one another. Most families no longer fit the conventional description. The much-lamented “breakdown of the American family,” and the need to reclaim “traditional family values,” are manifestations of the 20th Century’s transition from village life and extended families to the modern “nuclear family” units, which often reduce down to a single mother trying to raise and support children she hardly even interacts with.

A century ago, the typical American family consisted of three generations (parents, children and grandparents) living together in a large house, along with lateral relatives such as Uncles and Aunts, and even at least one unrelated live-in “servant,” such as a nanny, butler, cook or housekeeper. The “Traditional American Family,” in fact, looked pretty much like “The Addams Family!”

With each generation of the last century, we have become increasingly isolated and alienated. Ever-increasing numbers of American children are growing up with no brothers or sisters, hardly any parental interactions, and no adult role models for parenting or other relationships. Their interactions with other children occur in hostile environments, such as schools and the street, where they are subject to ever-rising levels of teasing, harassment, bullying and violence. They retreat to the world of television, video games, and the Internet—none of which provide real-life interaction with actual flesh-and-blood human beings.

But deep within each of us is our genetic ancestral memory of the Tribe, the Clan, the extended Family. Such rich relationships nurtured and sustained our ancestors from the dawn of time, and it was within that context that we became fully human. We require and crave such connections and relationships in our deepest heart-of-hearts, and we seek them in clubs, gangs, fraternities, cliques, parties, pubs, communes, churches, nests, covens, and circles of close friends.

And for an increasing number of us, we are learning how to create such complex and deep bonding relationships through extended networks of multiple lovers and expanded families. “Polyamory,” implying multiple lovers, is both a new paradigm for relationships and a vision for healing the pathological alienation of individuals in modern society.

We now know that the biodiversity we value in nature, as the biologist Bruce Bagemihl points out, is valuable in sexual and bonding behavior also. And although Dr. Bagamihl is talking about animals, we are also animals and this applies equally to us. Polyamory is not “the answer.” Diversity and choice are the answers--and Polyamory is one of the strands in the decentralized network of diversity and choice with regard to human bonding, intimacy, and family.

6-Q:Do you find that American society in general these days is more accepting of alternative lifestyles such as polyamory, as compared to a generation or two ago?

6-A:We think the answer would have to be “yes,” in general. The increasing acceptance of various types of diversity has been a major thrust of US culture over the past few decades. This has been especially due, we think, to the efforts of such as the gay community, the Pagan community, the Black community, the rise of feminism, the “New Age” movement, the influence of Hollywood and TV (such as “Star Trek”), science fiction & fantasy literature, comic books, Harry Potter, etc. The entire “Cultural Creatives” phenomenon is a growing demographic that comprises something like 25% of all Americans, and includes many of the brightest and best-educated.

The international breakdown of the family and other community ties requires that we examine alternatives; and no human being is exempt from this project or its implications. For the last five years the Ravenheart family has been consistently newsworthy in the national media. People want to know about what we are doing, and how we are doing it. The more people know, the more they want to know. In our lectures and workshops on Polyamory, it is clear from the change in our audiences that more people are practicing Polyamory. Four years ago our audiences were mainly people who were considering trying it. Now they are mostly people who are immersed in this lifestyle and have practical questions.

Of course, there is also the inevitable backlash. Pat Robertson and other Fundamentalist Right-Wing Christians have declared that there is a “Cultural War” going on in the country for “the souls of Americans.” Clearly, they see folks like us as on the opposite side from them. But so far, we have not experienced directly much impact from this “war”... We really aren’t actually trying to make people “see the light” of polyamory. We’re just trying to make ourselves more visible and hence more available to those out there who would naturally identify with all this, and would be greatly relieved to know they are not alone. But in no way are we trying to “recruit” or “convert” anyone. We’re perfectly happy to leave everyone alone to follow their own bliss, just as we wish to be left alone to follow ours. We all have different needs and desires, and polyamory is certainly not for everyone!

7-Q:How many folks actually build healthy intimate families versus how many are creating just as limited and damaged relationships as they did in serial monogamy?

7-A:It is important to balance the positive vision that some have created in the polyamorous lifestyle with the difficulty and negative reasons and ways some folks who say they’re polywhatever do it.

The Ravenheart Family are considered by many to be some of the idealistic, visionary leaders of the poly movement. Most people, however, are not. It is important to note that some people see this bigger picture of polyamory in the world; while others are just trying to fix broken relating in a very personal (and perhaps neurotic) way via their participation in expanded relationships. Some examples of neurotic approaches to polyamory include: acting out sex addiction; trying to fix a broken marriage while really just adding more stresses; boredom or dissatisfaction with their mate; basking in “new relationship energy” (NRE) as a dyad instead of using it to strengthen all the relationships; etc.

For each of us Ravenhearts, on the other hand, polyamory is an essential part of our individual identities and choices as well as our group vision--as opposed to something just one of us wants and the others put up with.

Polyamory is no bed of roses or quick fix to those disillusioned by monogamy’s problems. Many people who are drawn to it in principle for whatever reason may not be able to manage it in practice due to lack of dedication to meeting its demands—either because they find it too difficult and demanding, or because they’d rather do other things with their time and energy. Folks who can't handle the communication and relationship maintenance demanded in monogamy can hardly be expected to manage the even greater degree that is required by complex relating in groups.

8-Q:What does polyamory mean to you? What kind of freedoms has it brought into your life? What kind of problems?

What we have been emphasizing about polyamory which may distinguish this concept from so many others, is complete openness and honesty. It is specifically NOT about “cheating.” In fact, the whole point of Morning Glory’s original article, our workshops, and even the entire poly community, is to establish a cultural matrix and context in which such open and honest relationships may be sanctioned and thrive, for those who feel so inclined.

As for “what kind of freedoms” polyamory has brought into our lives, we would have to say, the freedom to be fully ourselves, according to our own intrinsic nature. And by our giving a name to it, other people who share that nature have also been finding that they are not alone. As we find each other, and develop a growing community of like-minded souls, we are able more and more to “come out of the closet” and live in full and open integrity.

The freedom of having more than one devoted bonded relationship is a joy that is almost impossible to describe to someone who has not experienced it. There is an inspiration to it and a security. To us it is a human triumph of communication skills, moxie, romantic inspiration, and flexibility. Another freedom is knowing that if one intimate is not available or able to meet our needs, someone else is. Conversely we are aware that someone else can meet our lover’s need if we are unable or unwilling. Theoretically many needs can be met by people we don’t have sex with, but in fact erotic bonding gives us deeper access to the nourishment another human being can provide.

We have long drawn an analogy between being polyamorous and being gay: just as many people are just naturally homosexual, so, we believe, are many people just naturally polyamorous. But in a culture in which being straight, or monamorous, is almost universally considered to be the only possible option (legally as well as culturally), people who don’t fit that pattern must conduct their affairs in shameful secret. Thus, if one is going to act on such inclinations, “cheating” is implicit.

What we are trying to do is just what the gay community has been doing over the past few decades: that is, present the reality and validity of alternatives to what has been so long regarded as “the norm.” And thus those who are truly poly in nature (just as those who are truly gay in nature) may understand themselves not as some kind of shameful sickos, but as merely another variation in the delightful diversity of humanity. As in the fable of “The Ugly Duckling,” we just have to find the others who are like us...

The problems basically revolve around over-stimulation and cascading episodes of stress. Sometimes it might be a flu or cold bug, sometimes an overdose of emotional intensity, sometimes one person has a crisis and in the middle of it another one has a crisis-- What do you do then? The good news is you have many more resources to deal with these situations and if you need a break or even a change in lifestyle, the system is flexible enough to bend quite a bit without breaking. We don’t have to break up with someone in order to change our relationship; we can stay in the intimate connection and change its form. We add new relationships to meet emerging need. So Polyamory is very evolutionary in that it allows a person to express and establish new bonds, interests, and ways of being while keeping the continuity of long-term deeply-valued bonds.

9-Q:How do the Ravenhearts deal with problems?

9-A:By sitting down and talking them through (several members of the Family are highly-trained and skilled mediators); by regular Family meetings and planning/scheduling sessions; and by intense late-night conversations in bed or hot tub. If we can’t handle a problem within our own Family, we don’t hesitate to call in outside mediators, or even, if we feel they can be helpful, see sympathetic professional therapists or marriage counselors.

We have always accepted Robert Heinlein’s definition of “love” (from Stranger in a Strange Land) as “That condition wherein another person’s happiness is essential to your own.” We genuinely care first and foremost about the happiness of our partners, however many there may be. Liza came up with the concept of a “Conspiracy of Heart’s Desire.” Thus our entire Family is continually engaged in a conspiracy to create the fulfillment of Heart’s Desire for each other. And we truly believe that “With love, all things are possible.” (1st Corinthians)

10-Q:How do you keep from hurting the feelings of your poly partners?

10-A:The guides to treating a polyamorous partner well are the basic principles of civility that apply to any human interaction. One may have to adhere to them more strictly and consciously in Polyamory and mistakes may have more dramatic outcomes. The game of human civility has higher stakes when more people are involved.

A commitment to openness and honesty in our relationships (absolutely essential in polyamory!) means that if our feelings are being hurt, we tell each other. And if we know that our lovers’ feelings are hurting, we drop everything to take care of them, and do whatever is necessary. Often, feelings are hurt (and jealousy activated) when we feel we are not getting the attention we need. If that happens, then we make a special effort to give each other that attention. We take each other out to dinner and movies, have special romantic dates and evenings, bring each other flowers and little gifts, and in general try and shower each other with love and affection. This is made easier by having more people involved. As we say, sometimes it’s necessary “to call in reinforcements!”

11-Q:Do you draw certain boundaries—stick to a list of do’s and don’ts?

11-A:As to our boundaries, we have a notion of prioritizing our primary relationships if a conflict should arise. Primary partners have an ultimate veto over secondary relationships that they may feel are destructive or inappropriate to their relationship. We make a real effort to bring home prospective new partners and introduce them to the whole Family—usually inviting them to a special dinner and evening. We discuss prospective new relationships with our partners and get feedback and approval. We have our boundaries around safe sex issues, and have worked out parameters we are all comfortable with. We help mediate with each other when that’s needed. We commiserate with each other over relationships that aren’t working out. Basically, first and foremost, we’re a tight-knit, loving Family, the members of which also have other “outside” lovers as well.

12-Q:What are your most precious joys?

12-A:Sharing our life and work together; wonderful committed friendships and partnerships; deep and abiding love; great sex; dinners, salons, parties, hot tubs; travels, adventures, explorations; walks in the woods and picnics on the beach; going as a group to concerts and new movies; attending Pagan festivals together and doing our Family panels; our creative work in Right Livelihood; introducing old and new friends and lovers to each other…

13-Q:What wisdom would you like to share?

13-A:First off, don't make rules; make agreements. Make your agreements based on what everyone actually WANTS to do, rather than what some people want others to do over their dead bodies. And if, over time, you find that the agreements you've made aren't working out, and people are finding them onerous or inappropriate, sit down together and renegotiate.

And don’t try this at home unless you are prepared for total honesty and commitment! And unconditional love.

14-Q:Where can I learn more about Polyamory?

14-A:  The single best resource is Loving More magazine and its associated website: www.LoveMore.com.

Here’s a few other Internet resources: poly@polyamory.org;        
The
news:alt.polyamory newsgroup; www.polyamory.org;       
Sacred Space Institute, www.lovewithoutlimits.com;       
Glendower: A Panfidelity Newsletter, polyfi@aol.com.

You can also type in the keyword “polyamory” into your search engine and find many more sites and references.

There are also a number of good books addressing this topic, both fiction and non-fiction. The great classic fiction is Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)—as well as most of his subsequent books, culminating in To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1988). We Ravenhearts also highly recommend Donald Kingsbury’s Courtship Rite (1982). See also Robert Rimmer.
 

The Ravenhearts – PO Box 688, Penngrove, CA 94951

*Note: This article reproduced here with permission from the authors. It's presence here does not imply that the authors are in any way associated with OMS
(and they aren't - but they are respected and honored members of the international Pagan community,
and Oberon Zell Ravenheart is an Honorary RDG Druid.)

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A few months ago when our archivist attempted to add some paragraphs outining the history and roll of the Order of the Mithtil Star and the Reformed Druids of Gaia to the Wikipedia article about Druids, he was basically told that OMS and RDG aren't important enough -- we hadn't appeared in enough books to warrant an inclussion in the divine Wikipedia! Funny, Isaac Bonewits felt we were important enough to mention us several times in his new book. And we own an entire "Green Book" of our own, plus numerous paragraphs in the ARDA - the real authority on Reformed Druidism.

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